On Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, and the competing visions of success in today's UFC

Dustin Poirier doesn’t want much. Just to make a bunch of money, win the title, go to sleep with the belt around his waist (unclear if he means this literally or figuratively), and show his wife that all the years of work and sacrifice were worth it.

He’s got some good reasons for wanting all of that, as he explained after his win over Justin Gaethje at UFC on FOX 29 on Saturday night, but there’s something extra special about that last part.

“I just want to go to sleep with that belt around my waist one night and tell my wife, ‘I did it,’” Poirier said. “Years and years ago, in 2006, I didn’t have a car, and (my wife) would drive me to weigh-ins. We would sleep in broken-down motels and fight the next day, just me and her. I just want to say, ‘I did it,’ man.”

Contrast Poirier’s (23-5 MMA, 15-4 UFC) aspirations with those of his opponent in Glendale, Ariz. Gaethje (18-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) showed up backstage following their FOX-televised bout with some fresh bruises and a smile, telling reporters he was “content” with the performance that netted him his second straight TKO loss.

“I don’t fight to win or loses, as stupid and as crazy as I am and that sounds,” Gaethje said. “I go in there to entertain people. This is the entertainment business. I fight for money, and what I do helps me get paid a lot of money.”

Despite their opposing visions of success in the UFC, there’s one thing Poirier and Gaethje agree on: They would like some money, please. This shouldn’t come as a surprise from a couple of prizefighters. Still, it’s the one thing they both mentioned when discussing desirable potential future outcomes.

Poirier wants to win the title and make a bunch of money. Gaethje wants to thrill the masses and make a bunch of money. They both want to end up rich, even if they disagree on how to get there.

They also both want some intangible rewards. Consider Poirier’s emotional description of what it would mean to take the title to bed for one night. It’s not because he thinks it’d be comfortable to sleep with 10 pounds of leather and gold. It’s because he wants that physical representation of success, something he can point to as proof that he chased a goal and caught it in the end.

Gaethje wants something similar. He wants recognition. He wants to be “known and remembered as one of the most entertaining fighters that ever did it.” It’s just that the version of he’s after doesn’t come with a wearable trophy.

Both of these goals come from somewhere. Poirier’s is a little more traditional while Gaethje’s feels like more of a response to shifting attitudes. But in both approaches, you can see a logic at work. They’re both reading the market and crafting a strategy based on what they see there. And be honest, it’s not so easy to say which of them has come up with the better plan.

Take Poirier, for example. His stated goal is to win fights, move up the rankings, and fight for the title. But especially at lightweight, where the current champ is wearing a belt that was recently stripped from the former champ, there are a lot of potential obstacles in the way. Simply winning all the fights – even winning them in exciting fashion – offers no guarantees these days.

Gaethje’s strategy seems like a response to this fact. It acknowledges that there are things you can’t control, like the opponents you get or the opportunities you’re given. What you can control is your own approach – and Gaethje’s approach is straight ahead, in search of a war that will keep fans coming back.

So who’s got the better money-making scheme for this sport? Who has a plan that’s more likely to get him where he wants to go? The fact that there’s no obvious answer tells you what a tricky thing it is to be a mixed martial artist with dreams of money and glory in the year 2018.

Any other major sport, it’s simple: just win. And then win and win and win some more. But over here in the land of professional face-punching, that’s not always enough. Maybe it’s not even completely necessary, at least to a point. That’s the part we’re all still trying to figure out. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if there’s some disagreement among the ranks of the fighters while we do.

For complete coverage of UFC on FOX 29, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

Read the full article here: On Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, and the competing visions of success in today's UFC